Having Apple holiday gift thoughts. Here's what to buy and when to buy it?

iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S - Now that the iPhone is available from other carriers beyond AT&T a lot of people are considering purchasing/owning an iPhone for the first time. I have a few friends in this category. One of the first questions that pops up is which version should I buy the iPhone 4 or the 4S? If you you're in this category and you're debating which iPhone to put on your christmas list, here is my take on the matter.


What to buy - Buy the iPhone 4S (16 GB or 32 GB), hands-down. Let's face it, if you are "debating" whether you should spend the extra money for the iPhone 4S over the iPhone 4 then that probably means that cash is not a "limiting" factor.   So in that case, then the 4S is definitely worth the extra 100 bucks. And here's why...


Why buy it - The features, plain and simple. The following features alone are worth the extra money - 1) the Siri Voice Assistant, 2) the Dual-core A5 processor and 3) the 8 megapixel (8MP) camera. First off, Siri is really cool technology that is not going away. This kind of semantic voice recognition technology is the future of computing. I'm sure you've seen the commercials, but trust me the convenience of telling Siri to setup your appointments, reminders, etc. cannot be overstated. Once you use it you'll be hooked on the ease at which you can do these tasks. Just to be clear, Siri is definitely not perfect but it's a worthy first entry of semantic voice recognition technology for masses. Next up, we're going to dive a little bit into the technology - the dual-core A5 processor. The dual-core A5 processor is twice as powerful as fast as the A4 processor contained in the iPhone 4 and it has faster (up to 7x) graphics.  Of course, more power + faster = better! More importantly though, the A5 is same processor used in the iPad 2.  So this means that iPhone 4S and iPad 2 share the same multi-core processor and more likely than not the iPhone 5 and iPad 3 will also have a multi-core processor. That's a powerful lineup and eventually more and more apps will begin to use the power of these multicore processors.  I think that's *pretty* important.  Finally, there's the 8MP camera.  Personally, I think there is a practical limit to the number of megapixels needed in a "point & shoot" camera but having owned an iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S the difference in picture quality is surprisingly significant. By the time you add in the 1080p video-recording features of the iPhone 4S...it's a pretty good deal!


When to buy - There are always rumors about the next iPhone coming in 4-6 months and they're generally true because the market is so competitive.  I definitely expect the iPhone 5 to be available between April - July 2012 and the rumors indicate that it will have faster network communication speeds (LTE) and perhaps a slightly bigger screen.  Honestly though, neither of those features would be enough to deter me from purchasing a 4S right now...I mean, the 4S has Siri, it has the dual-core A5 and it has 8MP camera with 1080p HD recording capability.  So if my carrier contract was up and I was looking to get myself a christmas gift I'd jump on the 4S.  However, in my case, my contract expires in March 2012 and that puts me 1-2 months away from the rumored iPhone 5 release.  Hmm, if you're like me and find yourself that situation...the prudent thing would be to wait.


iPad 2 or MacBook Air - Ok. this is a tough one because these  two products are actually quite different. A direct comparison may seem like comparing apples and oranges but surprisingly a lot of people find themselves debating whether to purchase of an iPad 2 or a Mac Air.  Hmm, I think I know the reason for that. My hunch is that anyone debating between these two devices is probably a casual computer user who is looking for mobility.  I classify a casual computer user as someone who has a light to moderate need for a computer.  The casual computer user is mainly looking for the following features in a computing device - 1) mobility, 2) web browsing, 3) moderate correspondence and 4) media consumption (reading books, watching videos snippets or movies).  So given these usage patterns I would recommend...


What to buy - I would go with the iPad 2 (16 GB, 3G model). The iPad 2 is an ultra-mobile device that is as good or better than the MacBook Air for web browsing and lightweight correspondence (an email exchange or short document) and it is superior to the MacBook Air with respect to media consumption.  I consider the 16 GB 3G model is the best choice since everyone (e.g., Apple, Amazon, Google)  is doing the "cloud" thing these day.  Given that most of your media can be made available/accessible from the "cloud", I really don't see a need to go beyond 16 GB storage on the iPad.  I'd recommend that any money that you would have put towards the extra storage be put towards getting the 3G model. Remember, you don't have to have the 3G service activated all the time with your carrier, you can activate it on an as needed basis.  I've had a WiFi-only iPad and I found it inconvenient trying to find secure WiFi whenever I was away from home;  it's nice to have 3G for trips and such when no wifi is available.  


Why buy it - The iPad 2 excels in the causal computer user department.  I classify it as "ultra-mobile" because you can literally "take and use it" anywhere.  Admittedly, the MacBook Air is small sleek you can "take" it anywhere but you can't really "use" it anywhere.  That's the thing with laptops, they generally need some desk (or "lap") space and two free hands to use them.  That's not the case with the iPad 2, you can actually "use" it anywhere -sitting, standing, walking around...whatever.  This kind of mobility is boon for a wide range of people and small businesses.  There are a lot of small businesses can benefit from using an iPad 2 as a on-the-go data reference, data entry and point-of-sales device.  Ok, let's talk about the small elephant in the room.  What about writing emails and/or short documents?  Although the virtual keyboard of the iPad is sufficient for a writing a few paragraphs I think anything beyond that is best done with using a bluetooth keyboard paired with the iPad.  There are a lot of good iPad keyboard options out there.  Last but not least, there is media consumption - web browsing, reading books, watching videos and movies.  Actually, there is not much to say here, all of those activities are far better and more convenient on the iPad 2 versus the MacBook Air (or any laptop).  I think everyone gets that now.  That's why were seeing all the iPad-like devices like the Kindle Fire, Nook, etc.  I know it may not sound like it but I love the MacBook Air.  I think it's an incredibly cool laptop no question about it!  But in my opinion, you should only purchase a laptop like the MacBook Air when you're looking to make your *desktop* mobile.  For example, if you have specific desktop applications (beyond the usual email, word processing or web browsing apps) that you *need* when you're on-the-go away from your desk...that's when a MacBook Air perfectly fills the bill of mobilizing your desktop.  I can definitely see a business user or computer professional fitting in this category. However, if you're like most people you really don't need your desktop on the go.


When to buy - There are definitely rumors of the iPad 3 becoming available in 6 months. I don't have a crystal ball (I wish) but my hunch is that the only significant difference between the iPad 2 and iPad 3 will be the screen resolution and size (thickness and weight).  I definitely don't foresee anything here that would make a iPad 2 user say "Ugh! I wish I had waited for the iPad 3".